On fighting ...

Penguins Q&A with Dave Molinari

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Because of the strong response to Bill Ratay's Mellon Arena memories printed in the Q&A recently, similar submissions from other readers interested in sharing their recollections will be posted in the Penguins area of PG-Plus. Those pieces can be sent via the Q&A submission form or to DMolinari@Post-Gazette.com

Q: Does anybody look at a game like (Team USA's 5-3 victory against Canada Sunday) and ask why fighting is necessary in the NHL? I wish they would (eliminate it). It discourages me because I love the game, but I really believe that as long as the NHL allows fighting, it will be relegated to a fringe sport in the U.S., a curiosity. The first thing many non-fans think of when they hear the word "hockey" is fighting, and a lot of people can't get past the caveman aspects of the game to appreciate its real beauty. As far as changing momentum, that happens in the Olympics without fighting.

Dave, Altoona

MOLINARI: OK, this would be a good time for everyone to duck, because opinions and arguments (and probably the occasional epithet) from the pro- and anti-fighting factions should start flying around here any second now.

Fighting has been the most polarizing issue in the NHL for decades, and after a particularly compelling game at the international or collegiate level, where fighting effectively is outlawed, issues like those posed in the submission above tend to surface.

For every fan who believes that fighting detracts from the game and reduces its entertainment value because roster spots that could be filled by skilled players are taken by guys whose primary (or only) job is to fight, there is one who feels that two guys trading punches is as much a part of the game as slap shots and body checks, and that there's really nothing wrong with the odd bench-clearing brawl, for that matter.

People on both sides are passionate about their positions and, while some fans undoubtedly have been persuaded to move into the opposing camp, that doesn't seem to happen very often. Frankly, you'd probably have better luck recruiting Barack Obama volunteers at the Conservative Political Action Conference than you would persuading a pro-pugilism fan that fights should be banned, or a fighting opponent that the game is enhanced when two guys drop their gloves and have at it.

For better or worse, however, there's no reason to expect the status quo to change anytime soon. Despite the presence of some outspoken critics of fighting, the NHL shows no signs of being inclined to get rid of it anytime soon. And there's even less cause to believe that the NCAA or International Ice Hockey Federation will decide to make it an accepted part of their games.

Q: I was very disappointed that the game between the USA and Canada was relegated to a non-HD channel (MSNBC) instead of being carried by NBC. NBC is the NHL's major network and, one would think, would be a better partner with the NHL. That game was by far the most exciting and entertaining hockey game since 1980. It appears that NBC does not properly respect hockey and/or the NHL. Does the current commissioner, Gary Bettman, deserve any blame for this? Would the NHL be better off with a stronger commissioner, with regard to network relations?

Bill Momberger, Orlando, Fla.

MOLINARI:A lot of people believe that hockey, even more than most sports, benefits from being presented in high-definition, and many fans in this country were upset that the U.S.-Canada game wasn't available in that format.

But while Gary Bettman has been blamed for a lot of things that have gone wrong in the NHL since he replaced John Ziegler as the league's top executive, it's hard to see how he could be held accountable for the game in question being carried on MSNBC rather than the primary network, where it could have been presented in HD.

NBC reportedly paid more than $2.2 billion for the U.S. rights to the 2010 Winter Games and the 2012 Summer Games, and one of the things that much money should have bought (in addition to a number of the smaller competing nations) was the power to distribute programming in a manner that network executives felt could maximize viewership (or do anything else they were looking to accomplish).

If an NBC decision-maker concluded that attracting the greatest number of eyeballs meant placing hockey on MSNBC (or The Weather Channel or Telemundo or any of its other outlets) while ice-hopping or bobsled-jumping or some other event was carried on NBC, NHL officials really had no grounds to do anything more than express their disappointment.

First Published February 25, 2010 5:00 AM


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